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Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

Lesson Plans


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Middle School Lesson Plan:

Electricity, Frankenstein, and the Spark of Life


Grade Levels: 6-8

Time Needed: Two 45-minute periods

Description: This lesson plan uses two sections of Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature, an online exhibition to consider one of its topics—how Mary Shelley's horror science fiction published in 1818, reflect the increasing knowledge and hopes about electricity in her time. In Class 1, students explore the references to electricity in the Frankenstein novel and a 1931 film by viewing a four-minute film clip and reading short excerpts from Chapters 2 and 5 of the novel. In Class 2, Students are introduced to Galvanism and Luigi Galvani whose experiments and observations on electricity and muscle contractions ignited imagination and work of many scientists in late 18th century. Students learn about Galvani's experiment with a two-scene play that depicts two fictitious encounters that features Galvani and another scientist Volta who was Galvani's contemporary.


Learning Outcomes: Students will be able to:

  • Become aware that Mary Shelley wrote her horror science fiction, Frankenstein, and incorporated into her novel emerging scientific knowledge and hope for electricity in the late 18th century.
  • Describe Luigi Galvani's experiment and observation about electricity and muscle contraction made in 1791.
  • Explain the relationship between body and electricity and identify at least one electrical application in modern medicine.
  • Demonstrate critical observation skills and effective reading comprehension through oral and written summaries.

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Background Information: The Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature exhibition looks at the world from which Mary Shelley came. Her story did not arise from the void, but included scientists and physicians of her time who were tantalized by the elusive boundary between life and death, probed it through experiments with lower organisms, human anatomical studies, attempts to resuscitate drowning victims, and experiments using electricity to restore life to the recently dead. Some thought electricity capable of reanimating the dead. This hope and enthusiasm rose from the studies of Luigi Galvani and his publication, De Viribus Electricitatis in Motu Musculari Commentarius (Commentary on the Effect of Electricity on Muscular Motion). While dissecting a frog, Galvani observed the leg muscles twitch in response to a transfer of charge from equipment in the laboratory to the frog's muscles. His work led him to believe that electrical energy was a vital force of life. Galvani's work set the stage for the current understanding and studies of electrophysiology.

Teachers are encouraged to preview the following online exhibition sections and other resources that provide useful instructional materials integral to the implementation of the lesson:

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Vocabulary:

The following words may be introduced/incorporated into the lessons:

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Materials:

Handouts:

  • Frankenstein Novel Excerpts with Electricity References (PDF) (MSWord)
  • A Play: How Did the Frog Jump Across the Road? (PDF) (MSWord)
  • Play: Follow-up Questions (PDF) (MSWord)
  • Teacher's Play: Follow-up Questions (PDF)

Other materials and set-ups:

  • a display set-up for the class (e.g., overhead projector and screen, smart- or promethium-board, etc.)
  • materials for class display include all student handouts listed above
  • a set-up to show a Frankenstein movie clip
  • a copy of the 1931 film, "Frankenstein," staring Colin Clive and Boris Karloff, or available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8H3dFh6GA-A. (accessed 10/29/2010)

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Class 1 Procedures:

  1. Start with a brief assessment of if and what students know about Frankenstein.
  2. Tell students that they will view a short clip of 1931 film, Frankenstein. Display and read aloud the following questions for students consider while viewing the movie clip:
    1. Who is Frankenstein? How is he portrayed?
    2. Who else is included in the scene? What role do they serve?
    3. Where is the setting and mood of the scene?
    4. Which element(s) seems important in the scene?
  3. Show students a short clip (approx. 4 minutes), starting where Dr. Frankenstein explains to Dr. Waldman about his discovery of "the great ray that first brought life into the world" and ending where Frankenstein exclaims "…now I know what it feels like to be God!" [Note: The clip is available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8H3dFh6GA-A. (accessed 10/29/2010)]
  4. Address each of the four questions on display and have students to share their responses based on their viewing of the clip.
  5. Inform (or remind) students that the Frankenstein story originated as a novel published in 1818.
  6. Display "The Birth of Frankenstein" web page and introduce the author using the Mary Shelley's portrait. Read aloud the text on the website for students to follow.
  7. Reread the first paragraph and look up unfamiliar words as a class to help all students gain full comprehension of the paragraph. Ask couple volunteers to summarize the main point of the paragraph in their own words.
  8. Have students work in pairs to reread the second paragraph, look up unfamiliar words then write the main idea(s) of the paragraph in their own words. Volunteer couple pairs to share their main idea summary of the second paragraph.
  9. Highlight the sentence in the second paragraph—"… she drew her story's premises about the nature of life from the work of some of Europe's premier scientists and thinkers." Ask students what science topic(s) is highlighted in the movie clip—lightning, light/ray, electricity.
  10. Tell students that they are to review couple references to electricity in the original novel. Distribute copies of Frankenstein Novel Excerpts with Electricity References to each student. Have student pairs read and summarize the main idea(s) of the excerpts from chapters 2 and 5 for the remainder of the class.
  11. Class 1 Evaluation: Collect students completed Frankenstein Novel Excerpts with Electricity References sheets for evaluation.

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Class 2 Procedures:

  1. Display "The Birth of Frankenstein" page of the online exhibition and read aloud the sentence as done in the previous class—"… she drew her story's premises about the nature of life from the work of some of Europe's premier scientists and thinkers."
  2. Mention that students have seen and read some references to electricity in the 1931 movie clip and excerpts from the novel.
  3. Return students' Frankenstein Novel Excerpts with Electricity References sheets from Class 1, and display its copy for the class. Ask students to volunteer to read one excerpt and share their main idea summary of the excerpt.
  4. Tell students that they are going to learn more about the "electricity and galvanism" that Dr. Frankenstein described so excitedly in the excerpt from chapter 2.
  5. Display and read aloud the content on the "Galvanism" web page of the online exhibition. Have students volunteer a summary of the web content.
  6. Provide students with a definition of galvanism and tell students about two scientists—Luigi Galvani of galvanism and Alessandro Volta as in electrical volt and voltage— who were well known for their work in electricity during Mary Shelley's time. [Note: For more information, see online resources listed in the "Background information" listed above.
  7. Distribute copies of A Play: How did the Frog Jump Across the Road? and Play: Follow-up Questions worksheet to each student. Explain that the skit is a 'fictional' encounter between Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta, describing Galvani's observation on how a dissected frog twitched as if it were alive.
  8. Have students form groups of three, and assign each group to read the play and complete their Play: Follow-up Questions worksheets.
  9. Have couple groups volunteer to present the play then provide their responses to the questions on the worksheet. Summarize student responses and see the Teacher's Play: Follow-up Questions for discussion guide.
  10. Class 2 Evaluation: Collect student responses to Play: Follow-up Questions and participation in class discussion to evaluate their ability to comprehend the reading assignment.

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Evaluations

In addition to observing and assessing students during class discussions, teachers can evaluate student progress and understanding by reviewing completed Frankenstein Novel Excerpts with Electricity References and Play: Follow-up Questions worksheets from each student.

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Extension Activities:

  1. Assign students to an independent research and presentation project, for which each student selects one of the following figures to prepare her or his biography/information: Prometheus, Plutarch, Goethe, Luigi Galvani, Alessandro Volta, or Mary Shelley.
  2. Have students work in threes in a group to research and prepare presentation on one of the following topics. Assign each team to produce and prepare a final presentation that may consist of a minimum 3-page paper (double space) and a poster or multi-media presentation in the class. (See a sample Check List for a display and essay assignments):
    1. Your heart's electrical system: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/hhw/hhw_electrical.html (accessed on 10/29/2010) and minimum 3 other sources.
    2. Atrial Fibrillation: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/af/af_what.html (accessed on 10/29/2010) minimum 3 other sources.
    3. How a pace maker works: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/pace/pace_howdoes.html (accessed on 10/29/2010) and minimum 3 other sources.

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National Education Standards

Language Arts

  • Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • (Extension Activity 2) Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Language Arts

  • Understands the nature of scientific knowledge
  • Understands the nature of scientific inquiry
  • Understands the scientific enterprise

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